Industry Leaders Dish on the United Fresh Washington Conference
- by Jordan Okumura
WASHINGTON, DC - United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference has been one for the books with industry leaders converging on The Hill to discuss the issues that are essential to our fresh produce industry, allowing us to thrive and evolve. California Fresh Fruit Association Chairman Randy Giumarra and President Ian LeMay, as well as many others, traveled back to Washington, DC, this week to meet with members of Congress and regulatory agencies to discuss the important issues of trade, immigration, and water to name a few of the key conversations.
On the topic of trade, Randy and Ian took the message to Congress that while the California fresh fruit industry appreciates and supports the efforts to improve the United States’ global standing on trade, the impacts of these trade disputes are being directly felt by our industry.
“Efforts, like the Market Facilitation Program, have helped to ease the pain, but California growers fear losing our position as an international supplier as other countries are now shipping grapes into China," Randy shares with me. “During our conversations, we encouraged members of Congress to quickly pass the pending USMCA agreement and to work with the administration to find a path forward for an agreement with China.”
Front of mind was the topic of immigration as well. Randy and Ian had successful meetings with the California Senate Delegation, as well as members of Congress on the issue of immigration.
“We are supportive of the negotiations currently taking place in the House Judiciary Committee and Senator Feinstein’s efforts in the senate. California agriculture is in need of a long-term solution that will give a path to legalization for members of the California workforce that may be improperly documented and that also allows for a future guest worker program to help sustain our industry’s labor needs,” Randy expresses.
Especially here in California, but of course across the U.S., water remains an important topic as it is essential to our industry.
“The association is deeply grateful to Governor Gavin Newsom for his decision to veto SB1. We are also grateful for the efforts of Senator Feinstein, Congressman Jim Costa, and others who weighed in with the Governor on this issue. Governor Newsom sided with new and better science and hopefully a more viable future for California water,” Ian tells us.
Here are more insights and reflections from a few of our industry friends!
Nelia Alamo, Vice President of Communications, Renaissance Food Group
“United Fresh’s Washington Conference is one of my favorite events of the year. It is really important to come together as an industry to talk about how issues like immigration are a serious threat to our industry. We help feed the world, and it’s great to share our stories with our representatives. There is power in numbers and we are the power of fresh!”
Kenny Lund, Vice President, ALC Logistics Division
“The conference gets better every year. It is critical to building relationships with elected representatives and friends in the industry and this is the best forum to accomplish that. I was able to voice support for the USMCA which, when enacted, will improve trade and allow us to help manage more freight to the benefit of U.S. consumers and workers.”
Lisa McNeece, Vice President of Foodservice and Industrial Sales, Grimmway Farms
“I look forward to this event every year. It never disappoints. The speakers this year have been amazing and sharing their stories. Our congressional visits have been productive, discussing international trade, immigration, and child nutrition and the need to increase 'fresh' fruit and vegetable consumption! This morning has had a great start, listening to Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue.”
Alex Berkley, Director of Sales, Frieda's Specialty Produce
“The Washington Conference is one of a kind, giving the entire produce industry the opportunity to tell their stories and have their voice heard on our industry’s most vital issues. There is truly nothing like it. This year, the most important topic was immigration, as growers in our industry, rural and urban areas alike, are experiencing labor shortages that are threatening the existence of their business. It was time for our members of Congress to hear exactly how badly we need a modernized H2-A program and a viable path to citizenship for current undocumented workers. Closely behind immigration is trade. It was helpful to hear what is causing members of Congress to be hesitant to agree to the USMCA proposal. Although our industry has bipartisan issues, trade is showing truly how divided our country is. We hope our voices this week helped reduce the skepticism many members have and bring both sides closer to a yes.”
Rex Lawrence, President, Joe Produce Search
“I always enjoy this event. The people, city, and the opportunities to learn and be involved with our governmental process. This year, I actually heard something that gave me hope regarding our labor issues. Ben Goldeen, from Congressman Jim Costa's office, told us about an initiative to improve the Guest Worker Program outside of a Comprehensive Immigration Reform program. It's much needed, and hopefully both sides can put politics aside and do what's desperately needed to help us in ag. They feel like it is making positive strides.”
The time is now for our industry to bring a collective voice to the table, and from where I am sitting, we seem to be doing just that.